Guwahati: Large axe-manufacturing sites dating to Neolithic culture have been discovered in the West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.

Field investigations conducted by Tosabanta Padhan of the School of Historical Studies, Nalanda University, Bihar have resulted in the finding of large clusters of Neolithic manufacturing sites, located on the hilltops and hillslopes close to present-day rivers, streams, natural springs, water channels, and modern Garo community habitats.

  • Meghalaya Neolithic sites found
  • Meghalaya Neolithic sites found

“The study is important for discovering new Neolithic axe-manufacturing sites and understanding the nature and context of the sites,” Padhan told EastMojo.

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Nine Neolithic sites have been discovered by Padhan.

The beginning of Neolithic culture in India witnessed a major shift in lithic technology, subsistence economy and settlement patterns marked by a gradual adoption of pastoralism, agriculture and domestication as the prime sources of livelihood.

“The Neolithic sites in the West Garo Hills are located on the hilltops, hillslopes and foothills, close to present-day rivers, streams, natural springs and water channels,” Padhan found during his investigations.

Neolithic records of India can be found that are contemporary with microlith-using hunter–gatherers of western and northwestern India and Chalcolithic culture in central and western India. The neolithic culture of India is diverse in nature and has considerable regional variations. Each region presents a different story of its origin, development, and decline in the various geographical areas of India.

The Garo Hills are well known for their unique Neolithic culture characterised by large numbers of unpolished axe and adze, polished celts, and flake-blade assemblages associated with hand-made cord-impressed ceramic. This area is an important centre of the Eastern Neolithic in India. The present Garo Hills dwellers still practice mixed- jhum agriculture on the hills and terrace rice cultivation in the foothills. They also do occasional fishing and hunting and have domesticated animals.

“The study also cracked the pattern of the network of trade and exchange operated in the region,” he said.

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Hilly and thick vegetation cover in the Garo Hills must have required forest clearance, digging, and woodworking for agriculture or shifting cultivation. The shifting cultivation or slash-and-burn agriculture that continued in the Garo Hills has a prehistoric base.

“Most of the sites are located in the present-day Garo villages, close to the Garo habitation areas or near a dyke basalt raw material source. It is easy to observe Neolithic manufacturing sites but hard to find habitation sites along with finished tools or ceramic assemblages. Most of the manufacturing clusters are observed on the hilltops, hill slopes, and riverbanks,” the study revealed.

Most of the production sites are located on small tributaries of the Rongram and Ganol rivers. Small-scale production or maintenance activities have also been observed from Rongram, Bibragre, Ganolgre, Matchakolgre and Makbil Bisik sites in the West Garo Hills.

Meghalaya Neolithic sites found
Digital contour of the Misimagre localities

“Preparation of the wooded and forested landscape into suitable agricultural land must have required a large number of Neolithic axes in the Garo Hills. The high demand for Neolithic axes, adzes, knives, scrapers, and other tools would have served the purposes required by early farmers. Increasing population pressure and higher requirements for axes for clearing the forest seem to be responsible for larger industrial-scale production in The Garo Hills,” the study stated.

“Neolithic sites were found earlier too, however, many of the sites were isolated or stray findings, and also their scientific study with modern GIS mapping was not undertaken,” Tosabanta Padhan said.

Meghalaya Neolithic sites found
Neolithic Sites of West Garo hills

None of the known sites have been found to have polishers or outcrops with grinding surfaces close to the manufacturing sites. “This indicates that the axe was polished somewhere else away from the production site. Chibragre and Rongram both yielded habitation deposits associated with polished axes and celts. It is presumed that grinding and polishing might be done on outcrops that lie close to water sources,” stated the study.

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The mass axe production sites were spread over large areas with multiple workshop localities. Findings of different types and shapes of the axe in other localities may suggest different craft specialisations in the various localities of Misimagre sites. The large-scale productions of axes, adzes, knives and flake-blade elements were meant for local and long-distance distributions within the Garo Hills.

“This manufacturing site must be a place for social interaction between different groups. This prehistoric network of trade or exchange is still not well understood, unlike in other parts of West Asia,” the study stated.

The long-term sustainable plant and animal food economy and limited access to iron implements might be responsible for the continuity of Neolithic traditions for a longer period than in other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

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“Larger areas of the south and east Garo Hills remained least explored owing to their inaccessibility and unstable political conditions. Most of the known sites in the West Garo Hills require a proper scientific investigation and dating. Excavations can be undertaken at Edenbari and Sopgre sites and further large-scale excavation at Misimagre to understand the regional Neolithic assemblage, settlement pattern, raw material usage, trade network, and exchange system,” it stated.

“The Garo Hills is a paradise for ethnoarchaeological research; in the rural areas the early agricultural lifestyle still continues and the material culture shows few effects of modernisation,” the study stated.

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